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Raising Turkeys 101: How to Grow Happy, Healthy Poults

Turkey poults walk around on wood shavings.

Maybe you’ve been raising chickens successfully and are ready for a new challenge. Or perhaps you want to add to your business by having fresh, free-ranging, or pastured turkeys for sale for Thanksgiving. No matter why you decide you want to try raising turkeys, you need to know the proper care techniques, general information, feed and water needs, and space requirements when adding turkeys to your small farm or backyard.

At Freedom Ranger Hatchery, we are more than just chicken hatcheries. We also sell and raise geese, ducks, and turkeys. Because we care about our birds as much as you do, we want to ensure that when your baby turkeys arrive at your doorstep, you are ready and prepared to take care of them properly. We put together this raising turkeys 101 guide so that your turkey-raising business can be as rewarding as it is profitable.

General Turkey Raising Information

Raising turkeys is relatively similar if you’ve ever raised chickens on your brooder farm or in your backyard. Both birds need quality feed, fresh water, secure living space and run, clean bedding, roosting poles, and nesting boxes. However, since turkeys are bigger than chickens, they typically need more of everything—water, food, space, and nesting areas.

It takes about 16 to 22 weeks for turkeys to grow into the appropriate market weight, which is why we only have baby turkeys for sale during a very narrow window.

We want you to have enough time to grow your turkeys in time for the late fall and early winter holidays, so we only sell baby turkeys in the beginning to middle of August. You’ll receive a straight run of baby turkeys, also called poults. Your run will consist of a mix of males, named toms, and females, called hens.

One thing to note is that if you also have chickens on your farm, you’ll want to raise them separately from your turkeys. Chickens can be a carrier of blackhead disease, though they show no signs or symptoms of the illness. This disease will decimate your turkey flock because they are susceptible to blackhead disease. Since no vaccination or treatment is available, you should do your best to protect your turkeys from this disease.

Pros and Cons of Raising Turkeys

Raising turkeys can be a fun and profitable venture but doesn’t come without its share of pros and cons. If you’re ready to add turkeys to your business, here are some pros and cons you should be aware of before you start.

Pros of raising turkeys:

  • Docile, regal, and intelligent creatures
  • Cleaner than chickens due to less scratching, and their soiled bedding typically stays in one place (compared to chickens who will fling it throughout their coop)
  • Delicious meat
  • Gentle and loyal

Cons of Raising turkeys:

  • Delicate turkey poults—they are sensitive to slight changes, such as dampness, drafts, and temperature adjustments
  • Slower moving than chickens, which means they are more susceptible to attacks from predators
  • Need feeders and water dishes separate from baby chicks because the chickens will bully them
  • Need lots of space—everything is bigger with turkeys
  • Eat more than chickens and need higher protein feeds

Poults Brooding Information

In addition to knowing about the advantages and disadvantages of raising turkeys, you also need to understand how to care for baby turkeys from day one. Like chickens or ducks, baby turkeys need brooder space, about one square foot per poult. This space requirement allows for enough air circulation to keep the litter dry. The litter for poults should be large wood shavings because they absorb water well and produce little dust, so those tiny turkey lungs won’t suffer from respiratory infections.

Poults also need a heat lamp at least 18 inches from the ground, but be aware that as your turkeys grow, you may need to move it higher so that they don’t get burnt from the heat or peck at the glass. You’ll start the heat lamp at 95° Fahrenheit, but since they are so delicate, ensure that this temperature remains consistent. You’ll decrease the temperature by five degrees every week until the turkeys are fully feathered, at around six to eight weeks of age.

When your heavy white turkey poults arrive, you’ll want to check on them often for the first few days. Remember that they are incredibly delicate, so prepare to spend time ensuring they are OK and growing healthy. They should have a safe space away from other birds you raise and can keep predators out. Ensure the temperature is correct and the poults are eating and drinking.

Food and Water Requirements for Turkeys

So, what kind of turkey starter feed do you need for your poults to grow into big, healthy adult turkeys? When brooding, poults should have a free-choice starter feed of at least 28% protein.

Adult males need 0.75 to 1.5 pounds of feed per day, while females need 0.8 to 0.5 pounds of feed, depending on the size of the turkey. Ensure the meal is specifically made for turkeys to meet the protein requirements for the birds to put on weight and be ready for the market during the holidays.

In addition, it’s helpful to dip their beaks in the water dish so that they know where to get a drink of water. For the first few weeks, it’s beneficial to place some marbles in the bottom of the water dish. Making the water more shallow reduces the risk of accidental drowning.

Young turkeys don’t have a lot of coordination and balance, and one wrong step could put them facedown in the water dish, which it’s difficult for them to get out. Plus, if they do get out, the wet, delicate feathers can give them chills, leading to death for the delicate poults.

Space and Housing Needs for Turkeys

If your brooders start getting too full as the poults grow, you may have to expand the brooder space until they have all their feathers. Prepare for this situation in advance in case it does happen.

Raising turkeys is fairly easy, and the birds are quite adaptable. They can be grown as free-range (our preferred method) or pastured turkeys. Turkeys also do well in coops, barns, and sheds, provided they have enough space.

Confined birds need three to four square feet per bird, and free-range turkeys need 100 square feet per bird. Ensure that their housing has adequate ventilation, can protect them from the elements, and keeps them safe from predators.

Ready to Start Raising Turkeys? Order from Freedom Ranger Hatchery!

Now that you’ve read through our raising turkeys 101 guide, you’re ready to begin preparing for your baby turkeys to arrive! Ensure you have enough space, the right food, and a heat lamp to keep the temperature where it needs to be for your delicate poults.

Once you’ve prepared your space, you can place your order on our website for your baby turkeys to arrive! Remember that there is a limited window to order, so be sure to order early to get the number of turkeys you want. For more information about raising turkeys, be sure to contact us!